Older women issue warnings to the younger generations about the type of behaviors to avoid in romantic relationships. However, some of those warnings usually stop at cheating and physical abuse. Someone can mistreat another person in a relationship in a myriad of different ways.

There’s a societal push to be more emotionally in tune, more expressive about past experiences and more informed about dysfunctional behaviors. Words, such love-bombing, manipulation and narcissism, are common topics of discussion. Women can make the best decisions for their relationships and wellbeing by knowing these words and their definitions. In addition to those situations, there is also breadcrumbing.

“Breadcrumbing refers to a person who gives you just enough ‘crumbs’ of attention or affection to give you hope and keep you on the hook, but not enough to make you feel comfortable or assured the relationship is going well,” Gemma Harris said.

The behavior is a fairly common one. According to a study conducted by Psychology Writings in 2021, 30 percent of the partners of dating adults were breadcrumbing them within the last 12 months. 21Ninety spoke to psychologist Vivian Ogunyemi about this behavior pattern, how to spot the signs of breadcrumbing in your own dating life and how to move forward. 

21Ninety: What are some signs of breadcrumbing?

Vivian Ogunyemi: Breadcrumbing could look like me texting you one day a week, then going a few days without texting you back. When you do meet up, it’s great. You’re both say let’s do this again. Then, it’s another 3 to 4 days before you hear from them again. They give you just enough, so you stay engaged, but not enough to commit to a relationship. If that effort [to get to know someone] is not consistent, then that’s breadcrumbing.

21N: Why do people breadcrumb?

VO: Sometimes people are not ready to settle down with one person. They want to have fun. People want to keep options. To keep the options available, they breadcrumb you until you decide that this is no longer for [you]. 

21N: Why does it take people some time to realize they’re being breadcrumbed?

VO: As women, we tend to hold on to the idea of hope. When we meet someone, we’ve already thought, “We’re going to get married. We’re going to have this many kids.” We hold onto that. We think, “If they text me here and there, it’s enough. Let’s just see where it goes.” We stick to that breadcrumbing, hoping that this person will change.

21N: Is breadcrumbing something that can be changed?

VO: It absolutely is. We each have a choice. We’re self-autonomous. If someone wants to commit to you, [then] they will. It doesn’t take forever to decide if this person aligns with you or they don’t. There’s room for change, but everyone has the ability to choose for themselves.

On another note, while you’re waiting for this person to stop breadcrumbing, you have a choice too. You can say, “This relationship is not what I want. I want a more committed relationship.” I think sometimes as women, we’re waiting for the guy to lead, which is great, but we forget we have a voice too.

21N: What should you do when you’re being breadcrumbed?

VO: You have to know what you want out of the relationship. Do you want a fling or a committed relationship?

Once you know what you want, you can use that as a guide to determine [if] this person [is] communicating with [you] in the way that [you] would like. If you don’t know yourself and what you want, [then] you will go with whatever. If you’re looking for something more, [breadcrumbing] hurts when it happens. But, it can also be a learning experience for you to know what you actually want.

This article has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.